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Child custody mediation is the act of meeting with an independent mediator to negotiate the terms of child custody in a family law case. It is often a free service provided by the court. The mediator is appointed by the court and has no vested interest in either party to the case. Court-appointed mediators are trained experts in family law and negotiations.
The ultimate goal of child custody mediation is to reduce the level of hostility between the parents so an appropriate child custody agreement can be drafted. The agreement usually goes through several rounds before both parents commit to signing. Mediation is often scheduled at least six weeks in advance of a court hearing to provide all parties plenty of time to meet and review the agreement.
The exact protocol involved in child custody mediation varies greatly from case to case. In general, both parents will meet with the mediator separately at least once to discuss home life, professional life and goals for the future with regard to the child. If the mediator needs more information or feels it would be beneficial to her decision, a meeting with the child in question will be requested. Coaching a child prior to a meeting with a mediator is a violation of the law and may reflect negatively on the offending parent if discovered.
On occasion, the family mediator will ask the parents to fulfill specific requests before a recommendation can be made to the court. Common requests include undergoing psychiatric evaluations, complying with criminal background checks and furnishing the mediator with proof of claims. Although these types of requests are usually reserved for the evaluation stage of a custody case, it's not unheard of to have them in mediation. All documents provided to the mediator must be properly served to all parties before they can be considered.
If child custody mediation is unsuccessful, the mediator will recommend to the court that all involved parties undergo court-ordered evaluation. This is a much more intensive investigation into family life that involves in-home or in-court observations of the child with both parents, as well as interviews with family members, neighbors, school administrators and anyone else the court feels may be valuable. Evaluation comes with a fee that is payable to the court.
There are certain situations where child custody mediation might not be the best option. These include cases that involve domestic violence or child abuse, as well as those in which substance abuse is a significant factor. The rate of success in these types of situations is often low, and all parties may benefit more from proceeding straight to the evaluation stage.